Make a note now: You don’t want to miss Parker Millsap next time he comes around. The folks lucky enough to catch the young Oklahoman’s show on Monday (11/11/13) at CSPS would no doubt tell you that he can’t come back soon enough.
Millsap and his mates — Michael Rose on bass and Daniel Foulks on fiddle — turned in an electrifying acoustic (but amplified) set in their Iowa debut.
Millsap is a strong guitar player and blows a mean harmonica, but what sets him apart from other artists is his voice. Tinged with gravel and a growl, it can be sweet or hot and covers an impressive range. Millsap perfectly employs the various textures and tones available to him.
From song to song — and sometimes within the confines of a single song — he can change the tone by throttling up or down. His ability to show restraint adds power to the moment when he truly opens up.
Millsap’s songs are soaked in issues of faith and sin, hope and redemption. He is a master of the gospel blues, but the set also was spiced with western swing, some countrified Motown and more. Throughout the set, Rose provided a solid and engaging bass line while Foulks’ warm, smooth fiddle tones struck a perfect balance with Millsap’s gritty voice.
Highlights of the set included “Quite Contrary,” a devilishly clever blues featuring nursery rhyme characters reimagined as though they resided in southeastern Oklahoma, an area rife with poverty and drugs; “Old Time Religion,” a song of, as Millsap put it, “religious fanaticism” that called to mind “John the Revelator”; and “Palisade,” the title track from his 2012 album.
“When I Leave,” a song that felt emblematic of many of Millsap’s lyrical concerns, suggested the conflicts and contradictions that underlie faith when it suggests, “say your prayers and keep your fingers crossed.”
That might be an appropriate approach to take toward hastening Millsap’s return to the area.
Abby Brown, a Cedar Rapids native and recent graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, opened the show, telling the audience she was accomplishing a longtime goal by performing on the CSPS stage.
Her brief set established her strengths as a songwriter. While she acknowledged that she has penned a number of bitter break-up songs, the highlight of the set was “Angeline,” which she suggested is the only love song she’s written. The song includes the wonderful line, “I can’t believe that everywhere we go, you’re the sight to see.”